The Case of the Devious Defecator


Today’s story from the legal world begins with piles of human excrement – and yes, we mean that literally. The piles in question were mysteriously left around a warehouse in Atlanta. The case of the “devious defecator” (the judge deserves endless credit for that name) ends with a lawsuit and a jury awarding a judgment of $2.25 million to the plaintiffs. That’s a pretty big pile of, uh, cash. But don’t let that scare you away from your next workplace prank – the company is the one that’s going to have to pay.

Atlas Logistics supplies products to grocery stores. In 2012, someone repeatedly defecated in one of the company’s warehouses near Atlanta. For some reason, management fingered two employees as their number two suspects.

The company pressured those two employees, Jack Lowe and Dennis Reynolds, to consent to DNA tests. They agreed, perhaps to keep their jobs, and proceeded to be roundly mocked by their coworkers. The results came back clean, though it seems the company was in no hurry to tell them.

And here’s where the lawsuit comes in. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA, passed in 2008, prohibits employers from requesting their employees’ genetic information. One presumes that forbidding fecal identification was not the main intent of the law. Even so, the law’s concerns apply to this case. Now that Atlas had Lowe and Reynolds’ DNA, what would stop the company from evaluating their genome for, say, predispositions to certain diseases?

As such, the judge in the case, Amy Totenberg, ruled that Atlas had run afoul of GINA by asking for DNA samples. The jury followed up by awarding $475,000 in compensatory damages and $1.75 million in punitive damages, sending a clear message to companies not to crap all over employee privacy.

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